Mystics U14s’ 2 games over last week-end, although both against ‘local rivals,’ were always going to be as different as ballroom dancing and rugby league. On Saturday we faced Stockport’s young, inexperienced side who never gave up and did all they could to be competitive but found things as challenging as a fridge participating in the Olympic high jump. With no less than 8 Mystics hitting double figures, including 20 from our youngest player, Olivia Forster who still has 2 more seasons in this age group, the 119-14 ‘pressless’ scoreline reflects the fact that our girls weren’t really stretched. (This is a pity because we are in genuine need of more height!)
Such an outing was far from ideal preparation for Sunday’s top of the table clash versus Tameside. They, like us, had gone down only to Nottingham but they had subsequently beaten Nottingham, to leave the 3 teams, plus Sheffield, who we had defeated, all with a single loss following very close outcomes in every contest. This fixture, too, was expected to be as tight as wearing shoes which are 2 sizes too small.
We had a game plan but theory and practice don’t always go hand in hand. After all, the England footballers had a game plan against Iceland and look how badly they slipped up! We suffered a pre-game setback when we learned that the influential Charli Wroe had added a couple more dates to extend her North American tour by a couple of days and so would be missing from our line-up for a third consecutive game. Our starting 5, the ever-improving quintet of of Courtney Kenyon-Betts, Holly Bryan, Lucy Bryan, Beth McLoughlin and Ellie Atherton were like poets in that they were well-versed as to which individual they would be responsible for. These match-ups appeared to be working as smoothly as an expensive Swiss watch early on as we raced into a 12-4 lead with all 5 scoring for us.
From a position as strong as the long-haired Samson, we then faltered just as he did following his schoolboy error visit to the hairdressers because we inexplicably moved away from doing the simplest thing to get the job done to the most complicated. We opted to look for killer passes and forced shots for the closing 2 minutes of the first quarter and paid the price. The watch was now tocking when it should have been ticking which set off alarm bells (which, appropriately is designed to wake you up!) It was now 12-10 (the score, not the time!). Was the timepiece broken or did it merely need rewinding?
I asked the players to slow down and get back to playing no-risk basketball. They did precisely that and this enabled us to totally nullify Tameside’s press which brings them so much success. Offensively, Holly, who was magnificent from minute 1 to minute 37 (when she finally got a well-deserved rest) and Ellie who was almost back to her best following injury, proved as hard to stop as molten volcanic lava while Courtney again showed why I consider her to be as good an on-the-ball defender as anyone I have seen at this level in 43 years of coaching. (I began coaching when I was only six!) At various times in this second period, Lilja Toland, Ellie Hatton and young Olivia also played a big part defensively to limit the normally free-scoring Tamesiders to just 4 points over the entire 10 minutes. This, combined with a willingness to share the ball more permitted us to dominate the quarter to the tune of 18-4 ans go into half-time 30-14 to the good even though, if I’m being critical, and I am being critical, we squandered more opportunities to add to our tally than most women have pairs of shoes that they never wear!
After the break, Lauren Addy and Lucy Bryan did very well to help maintain our defensive intensity throughout the third period during which we created enough situations to be like burglars and run away with the booty but some of our finishing was wayward as a broken sat-nav. Nevertheless, we still managed to increase the margin by 5 by playing with great determination and concentration, particularly on defence. The attitude of the whole team was akin to that of most cyclists at traffic lights – nothing was going to stop us from getting to where we wanted to get to.
The fourth quarter saw more of the same and was notable for the commitment and fighting spirit shown, in particular, by Beth and Ellie H, as well as an appearance by Kadeja who wasted no time in showing what a good passer she has become. The 53-27 victory ultimately turned out to be as comfortable as fur-lined slippers and was achieved largely due to outstanding team defence. This limited powerful opponents, who came into the game averaging a staggering 102 points per game over their previous 7 outings, to a mere quarter of that with no opponent managing to score more than 4 points- an amazing achievement which contained as much energy as a giant-sized packet of Duracell batteries in a display that was as dominant as a giraffe in a ‘which animal has the longest neck’ contest. Next up is Derby away. Stay focused girls!
Many thanks to James and Sammy for the terrific jobs they do as assistant coach and team manager plus all parents for their wonderful support.